Fantasy Races: Design and Development

When one uses the term “race” in modern fantasy, the speaker usually means “species.”  Elves, dwarves, orcs, dragonborn, and humans are all different species; in much modern fantasy, they each have unique, independent creations and evolutions.  Even with the fact each is an independent species, many of them are interfertile and produce viable offspring.  While those more scientifically inclined may promote the term species over race, hominid shape and interfertility really make the common usage more accessible.

Common knowledge of the most recognized of fantasy races, dwarves and elves, can be traced to J. R. R. Tolkien.  I would posit that before the popularity of the Lord of the Rings, the common person did not imagine elves or dwarves in their present images.  Prior to Tolkien most fantasy races were the sanitized, post-Victorian children’s story images.  Now, very few can honestly claim the elves and/or dwarves in their stories or games are free of Tolkienesque influence.  I know I can’t. (2014.09.02)

Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson gave gaming what is probably the accepted basic set of races in modern fantasy settings: Dwarves, Elves, Gnomes, Halflings, and Humans with two accepted hybrid races Half Elves and Half Orcs.  D&D and other sources of modern fantasy have expanded and experimented with various races over the years.  I, also, have made my own additions to the races collective: The Seven Races of Marn.

Rilmorrin has a myth about the creation of the Seven Races of Marn: Diavla, Dwarves, Elves, Humans, Idré, Kularin, and Orcs.  It says that the Four Elemental Elder Gods aware that the “Time of Humans Rising from the Clay” was nearing decided to create beings in human images.  Ymarza, the water god created Idré with the help of all the younger gods.  Yterga the earth god crafted Elves with the help of the four female elven deities and the Dwarves with the assistance of four male dwarven gods (thus hinting as to why elves are matriarchal and dwarves are patriarchal).  Ythuga created the desert, fire-based Diavla with the assistance of Shayton and Syadeena.  Finally, Ysarka the air god created the winged Kularin from the rising thoughts of the gathered gods and their creations.  A conflict between the Elemental Gods and their sibling Yrthyal led to the creation of the, so called, Dark Races: goblins, trolls, gnolls, etc.  The Orcish god Gargor-Mesh and his mate Lortin-Ac took the remains of Marn and Dark Races killed in the battle and used them to create the Orcs.  This is the basis for the elemental correspondences for the Seven Race of Marn (Diavla – fire, Dwraves – metal, Elves – wood, Humans – All, Idré – water, Kularin – air, and Orcs – None), why all Marn are interfertile, and why orcs can produce viable offspring with any hominid race.  This is my spin on fantasy races.

With that in mind, I’ve been working on gnomes.  There are many clans (sub-races, if you will) of dwarves: Mountain Dwarves – the base stock, Hill Dwarves – dwarves with human blood, Azer – fire dwarves, and Uldra – winter dwarves.  So, what if gnomes are dwarves, but dwarves that have been blended with fey, demonic, and/or angelic bloodlines?  Another option is that gnomes are dwarves with halfling (rock gnomes) and elven ancestry (forest gnomes).  The latter option gives gnomes less of a mystical nature and grounds them more in the world, but I’m inclined to go with the former.  Forest gnomes have dryad or tree spirit ancestry.  Rock gnomes have (I don’t know yet) bloodlines.  Deep gnomes have been infused with earth elemental essence.  This idea lets me grant gnomes a magical nature and engage gnome players in the plots and machinations of their non-mundane relatives.  I’ve got other ideas for gnomes, but I’m still working on them and will likely put them into another post. (2014.09.02)

Sarah McCabe has a very interesting take on the Common Fantasy Races. (2014.10.13)

Game On!

8 thoughts on “Fantasy Races: Design and Development

  1. Excellent explanation behind the interfertility. As for gnomes, I believe you missed one. Dwarfish and (the flying) Kularin ancestry, the travelocity gnomes.😜

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  2. Pingback: Gnomes and Rillmorn | World Engineer

  3. This is a spectacular post, Gregory! I really enjoy the enriched explanation of how many races come about. It is interesting that I recently had a conversation with the folks helping me relaunch VOID (soon to be renamed) that we will change the name of Races to Species. In addition, I have a particular fondness for gnomes as well. In fact, (as you may remember) one of the races of VOID and the key character in my (soon-to-be-released fantasy novel) is the Kras, which is a demonic looking gnome with a heart of gold. I have really worked at redefining much of the race, but unlike Tolkien, I focus on Slavic influences instead of European.

    I am off to work on my novelette about Hawkhurst. You’ll find some familiar story hooks in the series (maybe even the Bracken and Pine (if that is okay), as I build off of the game we attempted to start half a year ago. Hoping to release the first part of the story next year as well!

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    • Joshua, I consider everything we created in Hawkhurst to be Open Source to You. So, are you going to go with Species or Races in the NEW VOID? By the way, what sources do you draw from for your Slavic influences? Thanks for reading and commenting.


      • I think we want to go with Species currently. My ancestry is primarily Slavic so many of the influences come from family tales that have passed through the generations. I also have a couple standard books, and have done the generic web-based search around mythology and such. [Though, I have added a lot of my own interpretations since none of it is too firm.] The Kras specifically is based off of the Krasnoludek, but I have changed them to fit the dark fantasy in my stories.

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